Speed Option is the only stage at Steel Challenge using a rectangular plate as the stop plate, and it’s also the stage with the furthest stop plate. The 18x24 plate is a solid 35 yards from the shooter. Options on this stage are simple, but the pros concur. Shoot the round plates from right to left, then shoot the stop plate. This way, if you do miss the second from the left plate at 20 yards, you can pick it up again on your way to the stop plate.
Smoke & Hope is the fastest stage at Steel Challenge. Five big 18x24 plates fairly close, with a 12 inch stop plate at 14 yards. But it’s very easy for shooters on this stage to go too fast and actually miss those giant plates up close. However, the toughest part of the stage is at the end. “You have to change gears for the stop plate,” says Norris. “You shoot the big plates with body index, but you have to slow down and actually aim at the stop plate.”
Showdown is an interesting stage. There are two shooting boxes, and you must shoot three runs from one box and two from the other. Many shooters shoot three runs from their “best” side, then shoot the remaining two runs from the last box. Another strategy is to shoot your two mandatory runs from your weakest box first, so you can focus on your good runs. No matter which method you chose, the real secret is to spend plenty of time rehearsing your engagement order for both boxes. Make sure that when you get in a position, either left or right, you know exactly what order you’re going to engage the plates from in that box.
The second fastest stage at Steel Challenge is Roundabout. Big, 12-inch plates at 7 and 15 yards with a 10-yard stop plate make for screaming fast times on the stage. There are a couple of different ways to shoot it, but if you want to be brave, shoot it like Max Michel. Max shoots the stage by engaging the first three plates, and then the left-side, 7-yard plate second to last before the stop plate. This can give Max a crazy fast time, but he runs the risk of picking up a 3-second penalty if he misses the plate and shoots the stop plate. With speed like Max’s, it’s a dangerous possibility. If it pays off, he can save some serious time on the stage.
The trick here to the Pendulum, as shared by JJ Racaza, is to aim. The targets on Pendulum are 12- or 10-inch plates that are 54 feet away, and when you’re shooting at them they look about the size of an aspirin. Each target needs its own clear, precise sight picture. If you rush it thinking about the next shot, you’re going to miss.
Outer Limits is the only stage at Steel Challenge that has movement on the clock. Right-hand shooters start in the left-most box and engage the first two targets, then move to the center box and engage the final three targets, including the 12-inch stop plate at 18 yards. Outer Limits has shots out to 35 yards on 18x24 inch plates, which can prove quite challenging for novice shooters. There are quite a few tips available for this stage, as many of the top pros have different ideas on how to shoot it best. BJ Norris, former champion and current Steel Master advocates starting in the back of the box with a close stance, and keeping your gun up as you move. Jessie Abbate of Team Taurus, current women’s champion, gets very low to the ground as she moves, and shoots the final plates from a low crouch.
Five to Go is the stage equivalent of a police speed trap. Four 10-inch plates are set between 10 and 18 yards away from the shooter, followed by a long transition into the 12-inch stop plate at 7 yards. Because of the long transition, shooters will frequently miss the plate at 18 yards and be halfway to the stop plate before they realize their mistake and correct. The other danger is that it’s easy to swing past the stop plate and miss it wide right. Avoid swinging past the stop plate by setting up your stance in the shooting box properly. Right-hand shooters should point the toes of their right leg directly at the base of the stop plate. This will keep your body from overswinging the stop plate.
Accelerator has a 12-inch stop plate located 15 yards from the shooter. Most shooters run this stage by drawing to the 10 inch plate at 10 yards, then shooting the close 18x24 plate, the far 18x24 plate, then the 12-inch plate at 20 yards and finally the stop plate. Past Iron Sight champion Dave Sevigny has this tip for us: “You have to get a really clear sight picture on plate No. 3 (the 12-inch plate at 20 yards). It’s really easy to swing past it too fast and pick up a miss.”
Steel Challenge is one of the “big four” pistol shooting sports. The basis of Steel Challenge as a discipline is simple: Each stage consists of five static steel targets that must be hit as fast as possible, striking the designated “stop plate” last.
Steel Challenge consists of eight stages that are shot five times each, with the slowest score tossed out. Your final time is your score, and the fastest time wins. Here’s a look at all eight stages and a couple of tips to shoot them a little bit faster.